OCA symposium – “Photography Matters”

OCA symposium – “Photography Matters”
“Cast”, Doncaster. 21st May 2016

Photography Matters was a one-day OCA symposium held at “Cast” in Doncaster on Saturday 21st May 2016. The conference was chaired by Professor Mark Durden, academic, artist and author of many books including  Photography Today. The event discussions were linked to everyday lived experience, visual culture, evolving technology, archiving and history, news media, education at all levels and public perception.

Speakers at the conference were –
Les Monaghan, OCA tutor, on making art photography for public audiences
Keith Roberts, OCA tutor, on family portraits and the returned gaze
Derek Trillo, OCA tutor, on exploring notions of time through experimental photography
Dawn Woolley, OCA tutor, on selfies, consumer culture and identity
Rachel Smith, OCA tutor, on the materiality of the photograph

“Photography Matters” is intended to be read two ways; matters pertaining to photography, and as a statement affirming that photography matters to us all. The latter implies a currency with which to question the former – what is happening in photography right now that affects life as we live it? Where in the everyday do our lives intersect with this most ubiquitous medium? From photojournalism that ‘goes viral’ and ultimately informs political change to the billions of supposedly impermanent direct images sent between individuals, photography is still a primary means of communication. Historically how has it shaped who we think we are?


I particularly enjoyed listening to Les Monaghan speaking about his latest work, The Desire Project which is currently being exhibited in the Frenchgate shopping centre in Doncaster. His project involved asking local people, in the shopping centre, ‘What do you want?’ All who took part in the project knew exactly how and where their images would be displayed.

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Considering the point; “Is it fair?”,  Monaghan discussed his methods and motivations for his work and how he has experienced occasions when he chose not to press the shutter, concerned that his creation of the image didn’t feel fair on the people in question. For ‘The Desire Project’. he allowed his subjects some time to actually think about the question and how they would like to answer it. I just wonder how honest I would be if put on the spot, or knowing my image was to be displayed for all to see…. Of the seventy portraits hanging in the shopping centre, he ensured there was a ‘fair’ mix of comments on the wall, although he did stress that by far the majority sentiment was the desire for world peace. Below is another of Monaghan’s projects, in a similar vein but asking ‘What do you want to be?’

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This work is displayed a the corner of a busy road. He commented on how amazed he was that the images had not been vandalised or defaced in any way. I guess this demonstrates pride and respect in the local community.
Monaghan’s projects remind me of Gillian Wearing’s (b.1963) “Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say”. Similarly Wearing approached people in the street and asked them to write something about their lives or how they were feeling on a large card. They were then photographed holding their statements. These projects bring everyday life to photography – honest and down to earth rather than the poetic idealism captured in many portraits.
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